Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine offered consumer protection tips ahead of the New Year.
“Our mission is to protect Ohio’s families,” DeWine said. “We want to help consumers avoid scams, identity theft, and other problems. We encourage people to take steps to protect themselves and to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office if they need help.”
DeWine’s New Year’s consumer protection tips include:
• Beware of scams. Scams are prevalent, and they take many different forms. Some of the most common signs of a scam are pressure to act immediately and requests for payment in gift cards or wire transfers, which are difficult to recover once sent. Also, online, some links and attachments are designed to infect your device with malicious software. Be careful where you click, and don’t open any questionable links or attachments, even if they come from a friend.
• Check return policies for unwanted gifts. If you plan to return any gifts, check the return policy carefully to ensure you’re following the right procedure. Keep in mind that some sellers’ return policies may be extended during the holidays, but others may not be.
• Understand your rights when joining a gym. Under Ohio law, consumers generally have three business days to cancel a contract with a fitness center, and the contracts generally shouldn’t last longer than three years.
• Don’t wait to use gift cards. The longer you wait to use a gift card, the more likely it is to be lost or stolen. Plus, while most gift cards generally must last at least five years, certain promotional, bonus, or free-with-purchase cards are not subject to the same rules and may expire sooner. Also, if a business closes before you use a gift card, it will be difficult to redeem any unused balance.
• Research new companies. If you’re thinking about working with a new business in the upcoming year, research the company first. Check for any complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau and conduct a basic internet search of company’s name and owner. Be wary if you find mostly negative information or no information at all. Some bad operators change names regularly to hide their pattern of problems.
• Update passwords and settings. Make sure you’re using a complex, unique password for each account you use. Check your privacy settings, including on social media, to ensure you’re sharing only what you want with the people you want. Most websites contain privacy settings that you can adjust to make your account more or less private.
• Review bank accounts. Following holiday purchases, review your credit card charges and bank account statements. Compare them to your receipts. If you find unauthorized charges, immediately contact your bank or creditor to dispute the charges.
• Check your credit report to help keep track of your credit history and spot signs of potential identity theft. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To access your free reports, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You can pull all three at once or stagger them throughout the year.
• Consider freezing your child’s credit record. Under a new state law passed in 2016, parents and guardians now can freeze their child’s credit record to make it harder for an identity thief to open unauthorized accounts in the child’s name. Adults also can freeze their own credit reports for similar protections.
• Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whether it’s a notice saying you’ve won a lottery you never entered, an online ad for a product priced well below market value, or a visit from a home improvement contractor who offers immediate work at a very low cost, be wary of any offer that seems too good to be true. It probably is.
If you suspect a scam or unfair business practice, report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515 or visiting www.OhioProtects.org.